Music

The Astronots Explore the Future Through "Wandering Eyes" (premiere + interview)

Photo courtesy of the artist

Niko Giaimo and Allee Futterer are spreading their wings as co-founders of the Astronots, a Los Angeles-based rock outfit that sounds like a blast from the past going back to the future.

Cotati
The Astronots

31 August 2019

What are the astronomical odds that a rock band formed by two former middle school jazz players from Yorba Linda, California, will go the distance to find their true identity?

Sure, it may take a while for them to get there, but keep your "Wandering Eyes" on the Astronots. The retro-fitted pair of Niko Giaimo (vocals, guitar) and Allee Futterer (vocals, bass) are looking outside the box of formulated musical genres in search of undiscovered gems.

The Astronots are also a rare find, one of those treasures you might selfishly want to keep to yourself after listening to their most recent EP, 2017's Strange Terrain, or Cotati, to be released on 31 August. But to achieve commercial success usually requires a numbers game involving concert ticket and merch sales, Spotify hits, and social media likes.

So while they start spreading their wings, let's start spreading the word. With the music video premiere of "Wandering Eyes" today at PopMatters, the Astronots seem to be heading in the right direction, even if their mission control capsule ultimately fails to stick the over-the-moon landing.

The music video for the stylish, 1960s-era single that's among eight tracks on the new album connects with their cool vibe, a conscious decision that Giaimo and Futterer have developed since the Astronots' inception.

"From the beginning we have wanted to incorporate mid-century/pop art as part of our 'brand'," they said in an email interview for this article. "Our music nods at the past and we thought the branding should too! … It's important to us that all aspects of the art make sense and we love working with artists of other mediums."

Giaimo and Futterer have utilized the talents of painter, multi-medium artist and muralist Amelie Laurice for Strange Terrain and other design elements, then followed through with Emma Rodriguez for Cotati and Dominique Boink for the animated music video.

Take a look at "Wandering Eyes" now, then read on to find out more about the Astronots and their music before seeing how they fare in the latest PopMatters pop quiz.

The band's twist on the name for some of America's most adventurous heroes of the 20th century isn't a personal comment meant to diss space exploration. In fact, it was a practical decision.

"Niko came up with that one," Futterer wrote. "He originally wanted the band to be called 'the Astronauts' but it was taken (starting in the early '60s), so he changed the spelling. lol #art"

Giaimo and Futterer are even able to poke fun at themselves when asked, just days before the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing, to give their impressions of the space race.

"We are big fans," they wrote. "I'm sure there is some sort of irony with us being musicians and not rocket scientists."

Well, they might not have attended MIT, but Giaimo and Futterer got their education at Berklee College of Music, the artistic student's equivalent to NASA's rocket men, and a long way from the Yorba Linda Middle School jazz band. The Astronots' "palpable garage sound" has led to placements on TV (CBS comedy series Life in Pieces) and film (2018's Under the Silver Lake), and is enhanced by guitarist Eddie Campbell, another jazz chum and Berklee friend who helped get their classic rock rolling.

The seven-track Strange Terrain includes "Begging for More", which found its way into the far-out Under the Silver Lake. The twisted mystery flick that sends Andrew Garfield across some of L.A.'s strange terrain missed most moviegoing patrons, including Giaimo and Futterer, before landing on Amazon Prime. "Truthfully have not seen it," they admitted. "Is it good? We'd love to know! We were told (the song) was used in a bar scene."

The film's bizarre story certainly isn't as heartwarming as these verifiable facts: Two established musicians who found their comfort zone while gaining valuable experience by scoring other productions or backing notable artists eventually decided to move to the forefront. Giaimo, who composes music for film and TV, and Futterer, supplying most of the Astronots' shimmering background vocals, co-produced and co-wrote all the songs. Cuts like "Pleased to Meet You" are propelled by Giaimo's sturdy voice and Campbell's churning electric guitar, while blasts of brass complement "Black Milk" and "Begging for More".

"To us, Strange Terrain was us stepping out front and taking some risks that were really scary to us at the time," they said. "We really just did that EP 'for fun' with no expectations."

For a hard-working group that celebrated the moon landing's 50th anniversary on 20 July by rehearsing and "getting lots of videos from a friend who works at NASA", the Astronots' musical exploration continues with the upcoming release of Cotati, the name for the Sonoma County town where the album was made at Prairie Sun Recording studio.

"It's very different than Strange Terrain," offered Giaimo and Futterer, who still shine on powerful numbers such as "How Much Pain", the dreamy (or is it nightmarish?) "Settle Down", and "Are We Living" and "Who Are You", two incendiary rockers that basically serve as sonic boosters to keep the record soaring.

"I guess that's the blessing and curse about playing all different kinds of music for a living. Different styles of songs just pour out of us and we have tried to curb that a bit, but it's kind of what makes us who we are. Cotati feels like 'us' — a little bit dark, a little bit sad, a little bit happy, a little bit rock 'n' roll."

Fueled by an inner confidence and stellar tunes, these Astronots are taking one giant leap of faith. Now it's time to reach for the stars.

THE ASTRONOTS TAKE A POPMATTERS POP QUIZ

Who is your favorite astronaut, and why?

Buzz Aldrin. For a lot of reasons, but he just punched a conspiracy theorist in the face literally a week ago, so that's pretty badass.

In your mind, what TV show (besides Star Trek) was really out of this world?

I mean — Seinfeld still makes us crylaugh.

Where have you felt most like a Stranger in a Strange Land, and why?

Stepping out into the artist "persona" is hard. We just wanna hang out and play music but you kind of have to be this thing and "on". I have to remind myself to just chill out and have fun — that's really all that matters at the end of the day.

Where do the Astronots go from here (literally and/or figuratively)?

We are going to New York (Sofar Sounds on 5 August; Berlin on 6 August) and playing the Troubadour on 31 August.

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